by Gloria Welton
PEI Bag Company Ltd. in Central Bedeque is growing, and training new and existing staff is key to keeping up with production demands.
The company applied for SkillsPEI funding to train new employees and to train existing staff to help develop new products and to maintain their current growth.
“In the last few months, we have hired four new staff members who needed specific training for orientation and on-the-job training as well,” says General Manager Thane Smallwood, who is a Mechanical and Industrial Engineer by trade.
“Recently, we brought in a person from Texas to help train staff on new equipment to address some of the startup and technical challenges with this equipment. In the next six months, we will focus our efforts on upgrading the training for our machine operators to enhance continuous improvement. Training and expertise are an important part of the balancing act with ongoing production demands.
“When training new staff, we use experienced operators, which sometimes slows things down a bit. In the long run though, the benefits outweigh the short term. It can take anywhere from a few months to a few years before new staff members get to an expert level, depending on the position.”
“We are a small company, so it is all about flexibility and skill development. Cross training is important for us and it also can improve job satisfaction and skill sets as well.”
About the company
Since 1935, PEI Bag Company has supplied packaging to industries such as agriculture, aquaculture, produce, and construction. The number of employees varies between 38 and 40.
They have approximate annual sales of $10 million. Atlantic Canada is their primary market. However, they have large customers in Ontario, Quebec, and western Canada. About 20 percent of the manufactured product is shipped to US customers.
“Part of the PEI potato crop is shipped in large 2,500 pound totes to larger markets such as Boston, New York, Quebec, and Ontario. PEI Bag supplies these FIBC or totes as well. Those potatoes are then graded, weighed, and placed into consumer packaging at the end location. We sell final packaging to some of those customers as well.”
“About six employees have been here up to 25 years. Our long-term staff members are the heart and soul of the company. However, we are always looking for new employees as well. Typically, new hires start in entry-level positions, and if they prove themselves, we try to advance them as opportunities present themselves.
“We always need to recruit more people. Just as we are in a crisis situation with the housing market on PEI, we are in a crisis situation with labour and skills shortages. Over the last six months, we have been getting the word out that we are looking for staff. We have also had discussions about the way we hire and about being flexible, such as looking at different work hours and part-time staff.”
“We keep our eyes out for folks for our production area, which are labour type jobs. These are full-time year-round jobs. The shift runs from 6 am to 2 pm.
“Because of customer demand, sometimes we need overtime hours and we are also considering a second shift from 2 pm to 10 pm to have the right balance for production and to have flexible working hours for our staff. Our busiest season is November through to March, but we are in production year-round.”
“A number of employees live within a 15 to 30 minute drive from the plant. The shorter drive to work, and medical benefits, especially for families, can sometimes make the difference for a potential new hire.
“Retirements are going to impact us as well over the next number of years. Planning for this has to happen now in order to get employees trained.
“In 2018, we purchased a printing press machine from Italy. We have room to grow without investing in further automation over the next number of years. As automation solutions become available for our industry, we hope it will reduce some of the manual labour.”
- Weber Machine Operators
- Printing Press Operator
- Printing Press Helper
- Production Supervisor
- Maintenance Operators
- Delivery Drivers – products shipped throughout the Maritimes and the United States
- Customer Service Support – answer phones, take orders, organize shipping/ transportation, and more
About the Workplace Skills Training fund available through SkillsPEI
Workplace Skills Training is a program developed for employers to train new or existing employees to develop their skills and align with needs of the business. The employer determines the type of training and who will participate. Training must be short term and meet job-specific and incremental industry requirements of the organization.
SkillsPEI can contribute up to 50 percent of the direct training costs. The employer contributes the remaining 50 percent. At the end of the training, the employee should have developed skills to meet the demands of today’s economy.
Eligible employers include:
- Registered private sector businesses
- Organizations acting on behalf of a group of employers (e.g. employer consortia, industry associations and sector council businesses)
- Band/tribal councils.
For more information, visit www.skillspei.com/programs-for-employers/workplace–skills–training
Call SkillsPEI at 1-877-491-4766 or visit one of the offices across the Island.
Funding for Workplace Skills Training is provided through the Canada-Prince Edward Island Workforce Development Agreement.